A chat with Chamath Tennekoon, CEO, Future Automobiles
By Dyan Seneviratne
Dyan: You said that your father was a tea planter, how was it growing up amidst tea estates?
Chamath: The vast expanses of estate bungalow lawns, cold weather, the Appu’s food, tea parties, the legendary Uva Club Christmas Party and friendships that have stood the test of time. It was as if I was on vacation throughout my early childhood; they were truly the wonder years. It was the mid 70’s and the Uva planting fraternity at the time were an amazing bunch of individuals. It was later in life that I came to appreciate the work ethic, perseverance, attention-to- detail, the finesse of the tea planter of yesteryear; they enjoyed a great work-life balance.
Dyan: So true. Being a Planter myself and planting in UVA in the early seventies – those incredible memories are still etched in my mind. By the way, which school did you attend? Played any sport for College? You look a sportsman anyway with your well set frame [laughter]
Chamath: I attended St. Thomas’ Prep School and St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia. Yes, I played Rugby but I was never good enough to be a regular in the 1st XV. STC had a crack 1st XV then.
Dyan: Any pursuits that you followed after leaving school?
Chamath: My love for aviation made me study Aeronautical Engineering but switched to Mechanical Engineering, considering the scope and opportunity in Sri Lanka.
Dyan: What inspired you to select this wonderfully exciting area of the ‘Automotive Sector’?
Chamath: I had relocated to Sri Lanka from the US and taken some time out to assist an ailing family business and was wanting to get back into employment. I read a vacancy for a Business Development Manager with a leading automotive franchise and was simply smitten by the industry. That was almost a decade ago! It was a defining moment as I never looked back – enjoying every moment of it, the challenges that have cropped up and tackling those issues enthusiastically, always with a positive mind-set! And now the iconic global FORD brand, and the luxury coach brand: KING LONG – what opportunities await me and my dedicated team.
Dyan: What were your notable achievements when you were GM of set up as Agents for Daihatsu?
Chamath: Actually, I was GM of Softlogic Automobiles (Pvt) Ltd. at the time and Daihatsu was/is a brand represented by the company. Since 2012, the Daihatsu Terios has been the best-selling compact SUV. We put in a lot of hard work to establish customer confidence with exceptional spare parts availability and service support. I was also instrumental in establishing the KING LONG Luxury Coach business in Sri Lanka with Softlogic Automobiles, which is arguably the best selling luxury coach in the country today. KING LONG has proved its reliability & versatility.
Dyan: When you referred to the Daihatsu Terios, I’ve been personally and literally been ‘in touch’ with the Terios from the year the ‘new Terios’ was launched in 2007, yours truly purchased a Terios in 2007 itself and used it for almost 7 years, clocking 95,000km in the process, covering the length and breadth of Sri Lanka, Up country, Low Country, coastal areas, ruined cities, the jungles, yes the works. And not once did I ever have any issues with my Terios. So much so that my wife and I decided to invest in another new Terios in 2014.
Chamath: Yes, the ‘Terios’ proved itself for sheer reliability, fuel-efficiency and residual value!
Dyan: I must also say that I had a Ford Focus 2000 year model for a few years; I enjoyed its build quality and reliability. Since then the newer iterations have even got better As I have test driven for MOTOR the Ford Focus ‘Made in Germany’ – that was a revelation. So great to handle and in terms of – once again Quality, Reliability and certainly looks, the new Ford Focus is a winner.
Chamath: So true. In fact the Ford Focus & Ford Fiesta have been UK’s Top-Selling cars for years.
Dyan: You’re now the CEO of Future Automobiles; also Sector Head Automotive for Softlogic Automobiles – what are your short, medium & long term plans to boost the image of FORD?
Chamath: I am very big on after sales. I have always developed brand equity for any engineered product that I have had the privilege to represent through “after care”. The same is true for FORD. I have set about assembling the best available service and spare parts team for FORD and focused on service delivery standards and CRM. Customer confidence is key to longevity. Getting the basics right and sustaining and further improving those standards are part of our long term plan. In fact the general public and our customers are now beginning to see greater FORD brand presence across all marketing mediums, which not only help with front-end sales but also contribute to building brand equity in the long term. 2016 will be exciting for FORD.
Dyan: Wonderful news. Any new FORD models due to be launched in 2016?
Chamath: All world-beaters: namely Ford Ranger, Ford Everest & much awaited Ford Mustang.
Dyan: Wow! Fancy that. Two brilliant, well proven 4-WD Fords and the iconic MUSTANG. Can’t wait for those launches, as would the rest of the discerning motoring fraternity, I’m sure. By the way, where would you be launching the excitingly rugged New Ranger & Everest Models?
Chamath [smiles]: Dyan, at this moment, we don’t want to reveal this just yet as we don’t want to risk a competitor planning a copy-cat event!
Dyan: What’s so special about these new models including the Ford Kuga? for sake of our readers?
Chamath: In the Ford Ranger we take a “best in class” product and make it even better. The all new Ford Everest is top-of-the-line super-sized 7-seat SUV with exceptional FORD styling and luxury whilst retaining the ruggedness of the Ranger. The Ford Kuga is from the European stable and ships from Spain: an outstandingly luxurious full-sized 5 seat All Wheel Drive SUV.
Dyan: Here again when you speak of the Ford RANGER, I was so fortunate to purchase the first, then new Ranger when it was launched at a glitzy ceremony at Colombo’s swanky Hilton. It was a Highland Green Ford Ranger ‘Thunder’ model 3,000cc Turbo Double Cab with full-leather interior and all the mod-con kit one would think of. Of course it was not mere ‘show’ only, since the day I got it – on 14th June 2011, to be precise, I have simply enjoyed every moment of my driving to all four corners of our paradise island, in the process recording 58,000km to this day. I hope to continue using and to enjoy this wonderful Pick-Up as it surpasses the quality, amazing raw power, absolute reliability, fantastic road-presence and sheer joy of handling compared to the rest of the Pick-Ups found in SL, as I as a planter of 38 years have been driving Land Rovers & all D/Cab models available for eons! The Ford Ranger beats them all, hollow.
Chamath: That’s great. In fact my workshop guys tell me that your Ranger is impeccably kept!
Dyan: Sri Lanka is waiting expectantly for the iconic FORD Mustang – what are your thoughts?
Chamath[smiles] All of us simply can’t wait to experience the “power-on-demand” of the 5.0L V8 coupled with a 6 speed manual transmission. A marriage made in heaven!
Dyan: Could you please reassure present/potential FORD customers about the excellent after sales service, including the ready availability of spares for ALL models?
Chamath: Certainly. I would like to reiterate that service and spare parts availability is my focus area. Our customers can look forward to some great FORD value added services commencing in January 2016, such as the Loyalty Card program offering significant discounts on consumables and fast-moving spare parts, service booking and road-side assistance via mobile phone app, island-wide parts delivery within 24 hrs. and regular top-notch service campaigns.
Dyan: That’s reassuringly wonderful news for all present & future Ford customers. You recently won the prestigious Golden Shovel award – please share your feelings/ thoughts on this Award
Chamath: The Golden Shovel was a result of our untiring effort to meet FORD Global Service Standards. It was a certainly a feather in cap for Ford in Sri Lanka to be so encouragingly recognized.
Dyan: What about serving the outstations of Sri Lanka; after all FORD cannot be only ‘Colombo Centric’. In fact such complaints are at times justified as outstations appear to be neglected.
Chamath: They need not fret as we’ll be present in the Northern, Central, Eastern and Southern provinces with one-stop 3S facilities before the end of the financial year, on 31st March 2016.
Dyan: Thanks for reassuring outstation clients Chamath. By the way, MOTOR magazine and FORD have had a great partnership in the past; let’s continue it with even greater vigour.
Chamath: We fully intend enthusiastically to continue and grow our partnership with MOTOR Magazine throughout a busy 2016. After all MOTOR is such a renowned, classy magazine!
Dyan: That’s wonderful news for all readers and fans of MOTOR – do keep a look out for Ford launches and all their exciting doings in 2016 and beyond! Chamath, I enjoyed talking and listening to you. Your enthusiasm and vibrancy certainly augurs really well for FORD. Good luck!
Chamath: Thanks. I always enjoy talking to you about the automotive sector and about FORDS & MOTOR in particular! In fact I read all columns and features of MOTOR each month with a lot of interest!